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Russian Privileged Interests

Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy noted that "As he laid out in his August 2014 speech in Crimea, Putin seeks a “New Yalta” with the West in political and security terms. As he defines Moscow’s sphere of influence in this new arrangement, that sphere extends to all the space in Europe and Eurasia that once fell within the boundaries of the Russian Empire and the USSR. Within these vast contours, Putin and Russia have interests that need to be taken into account, interests that override those of all others. For Putin, Russia is the only sovereign state in this neighborhood. None of the other states, in his view, have truly independent standing — they all have contingent sovereignty." The Soviet Union advanced a "Fraternal Assistance" formulation to justify the 1956 intervention in Hungary. Proletarian internationalism emerged as a significant legal rationale for military intervention after the invasion of Budapest in 1956. The Soviets discarded the term 'proletarian internationalism' in the early 1960s and renamed it 'socialist internationalism' in order to justify resort to force, if necessary, within the socialist community. The principle of socialist internationalism governed relationships within the socialist camp, and provided a legal rationale for Soviet hegemony by requiring that socialist states structure their domestic and foreign policies with special deference to the needs of the camp as a whole.

The circumstances of the 1968 intervention in Czechoslovakia led Moscow to advance a new principle of legality, altering the traditional concept of self-determination. The Brezhnev Doctrine advanced the proposition that under the law of peaceful coexistence, force may validly be used against both capitalist and socialist states whenever it is deemed necessary in the interest of the Soviet Union. The "Brezhnev Doctrine" presented an ambitious undertaking, analogous to the earlier Monroe and Truman Doctrines of the United States as statements of policy intention.

In a speech at the 5th Congress of the Polish United Workers' Party, Warsaw, Nov. 12, 1968, Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, declared that the victory of the socialist order can be regarded as final "only if the party indefatigably strengthens the defense of the country . . . if it maintains itself and propagates amidst the people vigilance with regard to the class enemy. ... [W]hen the internal and external forces hostile to socialism seek to revert the development of any socialist country toward the restoration of the capitalist order, when a threat to the cause of socialism in that country, a threat to the security of the socialist camp as a whole emerges, this is no longer only a problem of the people of that country but also a common problem [and] concern for all socialist states. It goes without saying that such an action as military aid to a fraternal country to cut short the threat to the socialist order is an extra-ordinary enforced step, it can be sparked off only by direct orders of the enemies of socialism inside the country and beyond its borders, actions creating a threat to the common interests of the camp of socialism."

The Brezhnev Doctrine called for Soviet intervention in Communist states in order to prevent change that threatened the rule of existing regimes or appeared to jeopardize Soviet interests. The Soviet Union preferred a series of weak states in Europe and Asia from which U.S. security guarantees had been withdrawn. In 1979 Leonid Brezhnev, the aged and infirm Soviet General Secretary, decided to intervene in Afghnistan to rescue his client state from complete chaos. The Soviet departure from Afgahnistan a decade later was a departure from the Brezhnev doctrine, which permitted no such retreat.

In 1989 the "Sinatra Doctrine" -- I'll do it my way -- replaced the Brezhnev Doctrine in Eastern Europe, effectively sounding the death knell of the Warsaw Pact; in 1991 the USSR jettisoned its own legitimizing ideology and promptly self-destructed.

Privileged Interests

In a speech at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy [the Wehrkunde Conference] on 10 February 2007, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said "This conference's structure allows me to avoid excessive politeness and the need to speak in roundabout, pleasant but empty diplomatic terms. This conference's format will allow me to say what I really think about international security problems ... I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernisation of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them. ... Russia is a country with a history that spans more than a thousand years and has practically always used the privilege to carry out an independent foreign policy." But Putin's demand that Washington accept Russian equality stopped short of demanding that Russia be given a free hand throughout the former Soviet Union.

On August 31, 2008 Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev outlined five principles guiding his foreign policy in the wake of the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states in Interview given to Television Channels Channel One, Rossia, NTV. "Fourth, protecting the lives and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be, is an unquestionable priority for our country. Our foreign policy decisions will be based on this need. We will also protect the interests of our business community abroad. It should be clear to all that we will respond to any aggressive acts committed against us. Finally, fifth, as is the case of other countries, there are regions in which Russia has privileged interests. These regions are home to countries with which we share special historical relations and are bound together as friends and good neighbours. We will pay particular attention to our work in these regions and build friendly ties with these countries, our close neighbours. These are the principles I will follow in carrying out our foreign policy."

In an interview with Euronews TV channel on 03 September 2008, Dmitry Medvedev outlined five principles he would follow in Russia's foreign policy. "... the fifth principle is that Russia, like any other state, has certain regions it will pay particular attention to. These are regions of our privileged interests. We are going to have special, cordial, long-term relations with the states in these regions."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks in Poland on 10 September 2008. A letter that Lavrov wrote that was published in the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" on September 10. Repeating the words of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, he writes that Russia has a geographical sphere of "privileged interests" and he called on Poland and the rest of Europe to recognize that "new reality." Lavrov stressed that "In conducting our foreign policy, we invariably observe principles formulated by President Dmitri Medvedev, including paying particular attention to regions where Russia has its privileged interests. ... We call our partners to follow Russia's example and acknowledge the new realities. We believe that the statements, made by some countries' leaders, about Russia's 'imperialist' and 'revisionist' policies are completely wrong."

On Friday 12 September 2008 President Medvedev held a frank and public discussion with the members of the Valdai Discussion club. "Russia has its place in this world, its mission, if you will, as a big country and permanent member of the Security Council, a participant in the G8 and a fast-growing economy. We will formulate our objectives in accordance with this understanding. I have said before and I say again now, there are regions in which Russia has interests. It would be foolish and in some cases even damaging to deny this. Our partners in the international community speak in these terms with regard to their own interests, and we also need to state this out loud. If we keep quiet as if ashamed of it we will end up with situations like the crisis in August. Of course we will defend our interests, but most important of all, we will protect our citizens. I have said this before and I want to emphasise it now. The world changed practically straight away following these events. It occurred to me that for Russia, August 8, 2008 is almost like September 11, 2001, for the United States. A lot of people are making this comparison now. Someone here also made this comparison, I think. I think it is quite accurate, in application to the situation in Russia, at least."

"Russia is a state with a thousand years of history. It is perfectly obvious that we are interested in a stable situation with our neighbours, absolutely all of them, without exception, even those with whom we now have rather difficult relations. And these states have every reason to want things in Russia to be as calm and predictable as possible. What does this mean? It means one simple but very important thing: our neighbours are without any doubt states that are traditionally close to us and they represent the traditional sphere of interests of the Russian Federation. And the Russian Federation is for them exactly the same sort of traditional sphere of interest. We are so close to each other that it is impossible to come between us: it is impossible to say that Russia would like things a certain way, and our neighbours another. It is not even a matter of belonging to this or that organisation, this or that bloc, but rather the common history and genetic connectedness of our economies and the very close kinship of our souls. Therefore, of course, our neighbours and good relations with them are our number one priority."

"Of course we are not interested in drawing boundaries on some map to designate our own areas of influence and so forth. That would be pointless. In a multipolar world, everyone influences everyone else. But with those nations with which we have traditionally been close, with whom we have had warm relations, we will work to extend our contacts. If that doesn't please everyone, what can I do about it? We also have to put up with things that don't particularly please us."

The term "privileged interests" is a novel term in the Russian political discourse, with only a few dozen attestations on Russian websites as of early September 2008. The precise meaning of this terms is unclear. The countries and regions in which these "privileged interests" are to be found remains uncertain. Presumably it applies to the near abroad, the states of the Former Soviet Union, those territories that came under the control of Moscow following the collapse of the Russian Empire. Possibly it extends to the members of the Warsaw Treaty Organization [WTO] - those territories that came under the control of Moscow following victory in the Great Patriotic War.

Possibly it extends to those territories which came under the control of Moscow in the time of the Czars. Such a claim, consistent with the revival of the trappings of the Russian Empre, would be a less expansive claim than the Warsaw Pact countries, but more expansive than the Former Soviet Union. This might include Finland, and Poland.

After rebel Cossacks won the intervention of Muscovy on their behalf, Russian Tsar Aleksei conquered most of the eastern half of Poland-Lithuania by 1655. Although Russia had been defeated by a new Polish-Ukrainian alliance in 1662, Russia gained eastern Ukraine in the peace treaty. During the reign of Empress Catherine the Great (1762-96), Russia intensified its manipulation in Polish affairs. Prussia and Austria, the other powers surrounding the republic, also took advantage of internal religious and political bickering to divide up the country in three partition stages. In autocratic states such as Russia, the democratic ideals of the new Polish constitution threatened the existing order. In 1792 domestic and foreign reactionaries combined to end the democratization process. The third partition in 1795 wiped Poland-Lithuania from the map of Europe.

On the 3rd of May, 1815, treaties were signed between Russia, Austria, and Prussia which determined the fate of the duchy of Warsaw ; it was to be forever united to the Russian Empire, with the exception of Posen, Bromberg, and Thorn, which were given to Prussia; Cracow was declared a free town, and the salt mines of Weliczka were returned to Austria, together with the province of Tarnopol, which had belonged to Russia since 1809. The Russian Tsar, Alexander I, took the title King of Poland. Russia, who had borne all the three years' war with Napoleon, and made the greatest sacrifices for the triumph of the interests of Europe, received the smallest reward.

The centuries-old union between Sweden and Finland came to an end during the Napoleonic wars. France and Russia became allies in 1807 at Tilsit, and Napoleon subsequently urged Russia to force Sweden into joining them against Britain. Tsar Alexander I obliged by invading Finland in 1808, and, after overwhelming Sweden's poorly-organized defenses, he conquered Finland in 1809. Russia planned at first to annex Finland directly as a province of the Russian Empire, but in order to overcome the Finns' misgivings about Russian rule, Tsar Alexander I offered them a solution. Finland was not annexed to the Russian Empire but was joined to Russia instead through the person of the tsar.

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Page last modified: 18-04-2016 20:05:20 ZULU